On Friday, May 20, The Inquirer published an article on mask mandates being reinstated in Philly public schools. Who made that decision?
On Friday, May 20, The Inquirer published an article on mask mandates being reinstated in Philly public schools. Who made that decision? Superintendent Hite told district staff in an email that the decision came at the recommendation of the city health department, according to the story and correspondence posted as a press release on the district website.
But did the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) actually issue a recommendation to that effect? The same article adds that "the department made no specific recommendation that triggered the change."
In other words, in a school district with almost 200,000 students and over 17,000 staff, everyone from now on will have to wear a mask based on… what exactly?
My repeated calls and emails to the school district and PDPH were not returned. The only metric provided anywhere for the new mask mandate is in the school district’s press release: “COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in the Philadelphia area.” There is no information on how much cases are rising, what level triggers universal masking in schools, what level would allow the mandate to end, or any other data at all.
So, basically, the new mask mandate in Philadelphia schools that affects nearly 220,000 city residents is based on nobody’s recommendation and on no specific metrics. Does that seem like a reasonable state of affairs? To me, it does not.
During the pandemic, extraordinary latitude was given to public health authorities to make decisions and impose mandates affecting millions of people. Regardless of whether it was a good idea to do so in March 2020, it seems much less desirable in May 2022, when we are no longer in a state of emergency. Seven people have died of COVID in Philly since the beginning of May (out of 1.6 million), and the daily average for COVID hospitalizations was 209 on May 23, according to my calculations based on data from the New York Times. These are not numbers that signify an emergency requiring mask mandates.
There is growing consensus among experts, including Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, that case counts should not be used as a metric to trigger mandates because it no longer corresponds to hospitalization numbers or death rates.
In a story published on May 19, The Inquirer even quoted “city health officials” saying a mask mandate in the city “was no longer warranted because vaccinations and natural immunity from prior infections meant COVID cases were less frequently resulting in serious illness."
If this was the case on May 19, did something change on May 20 when the school mask mandate was announced?
Last time the city imposed a mask mandate was on April 18. The mandate was lifted a few days later. Since then, 15 people have died of COVID in Philly, according to the New York Times data, and the hospitals have had no issues of overflow. If the April mandate had continued, it would have served no purpose in terms of lowering hospitalizations or deaths. Why would a school mask mandate now be any different?
So far, neither the school district nor PDPH has provided any explanation. That is not OK. It’s time to hold our public health and education officials accountable. If you want to force nearly 220,000 people to wear masks all day, at least give us a good reason why.